Don’t miss this deep dive into street culture and fashion with tailored tours, March 5
True to its motto of bringing the hidden gems of history to the masses, Bespoke Tours is offering something a little different this weekend for the good people of Beijing – a pop-up tour of a pop-up museum.
Bespoke’s Style in Revolt Pop-up Tour takes a look at a temporary exhibition of the same name, Style in Revolt, currently on display at SKP South Mall. It’s a deep dive into the world of street culture – from graffiti to hip hop and skateboarding to breakdancing – and how it has influenced contemporary fashion around the world, from the streets of New York to Tokyo and beyond. of the.
Although visiting the exhibit is free and offers an incredibly immersive experience, it’s great to get a taste of what you’re seeing, and Bespoke tour guide Tim Coghlan is just the thing for you.
Originally from Australia, Coghlan has lived in Beijing since 2007 and also spent five years in Tokyo’s Shibuya district, aka the “Heart of Cool Japan.” Prior to his current role, Coghlan specialized in luxury retail and shopping malls in China, which he turned into a unique expertise on the country’s fashion and luxury brands, and was even named l one of the best observers of the fashion and luxury industry in China from 2010 to 2015.
Can you tell us a bit more about your involvement in fashion and street style in China?
I have been in China for 12 years, the first six of them I worked in a role where I was an agent bringing luxury brands into the country to open stores. It was a real boom for fashion brands coming to China [at the time], so my clients were people like Louis Vuitton and Chanel and brands like that. So I would approach some cities here as an agent and find new malls where [the brands] should go open some stores. And me [did] strategy on one side guiding the malls on how to get these brands, on the other side I was telling these brands “this city is coming or this mall is coming, you should go to this city or this mall”, and I would negotiate the deal.
I was also blogging about the fashion and luxury industry in China at the time, as I was in the middle of it all. Beyond that, I had also started doing what I call “fashion diplomacy” projects. I took a team from China Fashion Week to Melbourne and built fashion relationships between Australia and China. But ultimately, my main job was developing stores and brands in China.
Based on your past experiences, would you describe this exhibition as a kind of fashion diplomacy? How does it relate to the current state of fashion in China?
It requires a bit more history. I grew up as a semi-professional skateboarder and was surrounded by American pop culture trends like hip hop and other cultural movements. I also started traveling to Asia, where I started collecting sneakers. I will go to [places like] Hong Kong and Tokyo and buy some sneakers that Australia didn’t have and I would go back and have all this cool merchandise that no one had ever seen before.
Now pop-cultural forces have brought a lot of that street culture stuff into the mainstream. Skateboarding is mainstream – having even been introduced at the Olympics, as was snowboarding – and then there’s Vans which started out as a skateboard brand but has grown into a global mega-brand.
So basically a lot of this street culture stuff… started bleeding more into what was cool, and brands started picking up on these new trends. And now there are a few key people and brands that have been involved in this. An example of when it was developed a few years ago was this designer Kim Jones, who was Louis Vuitton’s menswear designer, and he was very influenced by street fashion.
Jones decided to do a collaboration between Louis Vuitton and streetwear brand Supreme, and it just went crazy. He brought Supreme into the fold, after which it was acquired by Vans for $2 billion. From there, Jones worked for Dior and Vuitton hired a guy named Virgil Ablouh, who was Kanye West’s creative director and stylist. He fueled that even more – he was making skateboard shoes with LV, then he was collaborating with Mercedes Benz and became the sexiest person to collaborate with…
This exhibition tells stories like this. It tells the story of how hip hop started with graffiti in the 70s and then skateboarding started and there were all these types of movements that mixed together to become the trends that are driving fashion brands right now. fashion. It documents the convergence of so many things!
It’s the story of how things from my childhood, how all the things I loved now have mass appeal, and how my former customers like Louis Vuitton use them now. So it’s kind of the real confluence of my childhood and what I did for work related to an exhibition in Beijing.
What is the most exciting thing for you in this exhibition apart from this connection to your childhood and your childhood?
It is a visually stimulating exhibit. But for me, what is most exciting is that it tells stories that I would say most Chinese people don’t know. If I throw out these designer names like Ablouh and Vuitton, most people who know fashion will know these things, but they won’t know the history of skateboarding or hip hop and where it all came from. So it’s exciting to share the story of this cultural movement to get us to this point. It’s not just brands inventing cool stuff, it’s actually big cultural movements.
Because there’s this mindset in China that owning the greatest fashion things mingles with wealth and consumption. Since street fashion is now linked to this, has it lost its original meaning in China?
I think there are several ways to look at this. You know, China has had skateboarders and hip hop DJs since I came here 20 years ago, so this stuff is nothing new in China. All that stuff existed, and it wasn’t underground in the sense that it was hiding, but there were only a few people doing it. I would say mainstream consumers came to this stuff in China because the brands brought it to them, so they also don’t know it was a subculture and it wasn’t mainstream. I don’t think they feel much at all, they just follow trends.
Getting back to the question, hardcore skateboarders don’t think skateboarding should be in the Olympics, they don’t think Louis Vuitton should make skate shoes. They said, “if you’re gonna do this, at least support us, support [our] community.” The same thing happened when Nike got into skateboarding. There was a backlash because they didn’t sponsor any skaters, but they’ve since come back and are sponsoring skaters.
Moreover, luxury and fashion brands follow trends, and trends will evolve. The street is mainstream enough now not to disappear, but fashion in its essence will follow the next trend. It’s hot now but they’ll move on.
Do you see a current Chinese subculture making waves around the world before it becomes popular or after brands have reached it?
This is not an easy question to answer. First, because some of these subcultures existed before the Internet, so it took them a long time to develop. Now that this is happening, if a subculture were to emerge in China, the news would come out sooner and it would start to grow somewhere other than China.
I think in terms of creating culture and things like that, because China traditionally hasn’t had so many career paths in fashion and brand building – it’s new endeavors that people are discovering here – so it will be some time before there is a swell of Chinese creativity or brands or movements that could go mainstream globally.
The exhibition talks a bit about Japan, which in terms of Asian countries that have exported cultural phenomena, has done more than others. This is for various reasons, but one of the most important is that in Japan, the notion of aesthetics, design and craftsmanship has always been very strongly embedded in their culture, so these are different dynamics.
Bespoke Tour Company’s limited-edition tour, Style in Revolt with Tim Coghlan, takes place this Saturday, March 5, from 10 a.m. to noon and 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. at Beijing SKP South. It’s 250 RMB per person, and seats can be reserved by scanning the QR code in the poster above.
The Style in Revolt exhibit is open daily from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. and will run through March 20 at SKP South.
READ: State of the Arts: five exhibitions to see you through the end of winter
Images courtesy of Bespoke Tours